Opening historic homes

Rocheport’s annual Holiday Open House aims to attract more visitors to the city’s businesses.
Thursday, November 27, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:59 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Dressed in Spandex bike-riding gear and still wearing helmets, Carol and Ira Don clomped up worn steps and peered into an attic guest room at the Katy O’Neil, one of three bed and breakfasts in Rocheport.

“Charming,” they crooned as they surveyed the claw-foot bathtub separated from the bedroom by an old-fashioned dressing screen.

The couple came to town to spend Friday night at Rocheport’s School House Bed and Breakfast and take a morning bike ride to Columbia and back on the Katy Trail, which borders the town. They stopped for a quick peek at the Katy O’Neil before heading home to St. Louis, where the chore of raking leaves awaited them.

“We came to get away,” Ira Don said.

Rocheport business owners would like more people to get away to their town of upscale antique shops, quaint bed-and-breakfasts and quality restaurants.

The history of the town makes it all work, said Marcia Voss, owner of White Horse Antiques.

“There’s so little of it left in the Midwest that hasn’t become commercial or just blown away,” she said.

The Dons were in Rocheport for the town’s annual Holiday Open House, a two-weekend event when bed and breakfast establishments open their doors for tours. Merchants offered refreshments and horses pulled buggies filled with visitors through streets decorated for the holiday season.

There is great economic value in maintaining the town’s history, said Conrad Yates, owner of the Yates House Bed and Breakfast.

“It’s like looking at a Norman Rockwell painting,” he said of the view from the front porch of his bed and breakfast.

The view from the Yates House is of Richard Saunders’ antique shop, which is located in one of the oldest buildings in town. The 1830s brick facade has faded to a mellow orange. Inside, shoppers walk on smoothed wood floors that creak with every step.

Rocheport is a great escape because the historic district of town is in virtually the same state it was 100 years ago, said Mike Friedemann, who owns the School House Bed and Breakfast, where the Dons stayed Friday night. The School House is located in the town’s restored, three-story brick school building, where the cost of a room ranges from $115 to $230 a night.

The windows of the upper floors afford a view of the entire town, which was placed on the National Registry of Historical Places in 1976.

The town contains 76 nationally registered historical buildings. Families and merchants buy the buildings to make sure they are preserved, Voss said. On Saturday, the Friends of Rocheport, a local community group, held a silent auction and chili supper to raise money to help with the upkeep of the historical buildings.

The work the town undertakes to preserve its history keeps visitors coming back, said Edie Brennan and Carolyn Doyle. The women, who live near Midway, walk their dogs on the Katy Trail and shop for gifts at Rocheport stores on a regular basis, they said.

“We really like the way they’ve preserved the older buildings,” Doyle said.

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